Lou Tyson Walker of Whanganui & Partners says the pilot interns will add to the economic, social and cultural wealth of the city. Photo/Moana Ellis
Young intern pilot Shlok Bajpai landed in Whanganui this week as part of the region’s largest cohort of international students since the borders were closed two years ago.
The 20-year-old was one of the first of 54 students from across India to arrive for training at the Whanganui pilot school, the New Zealand International Commercial Pilot Academy (NZICPA).
He says he came to Whanganui because of the flying academy’s strong international reputation.
“NZICPA in particular, they have a very good student to instructor ratio of around one to 10 (which is a high standard in the industry), a great climate to fly and state of the art infrastructure. New Zealand has a very good reputation for flight training.”
Thirty of the 54 students – including 14 women – landed in Whanganui this week and the rest, who are awaiting visas, are due in early May.
The pilot academy is considered a key economic development initiative for the Whanganui community. It was established and owned by Whanganui District Council through its holding company, Whanganui District Council Holdings Limited (WDCHL).
WDCHL purchased Flight Training Manawatū, a small flight school in Feilding, built a professional pilot training complex at Whanganui Airport in 2016, and began operating the school from Whanganui in 2017.
Hit hard by border closures over the past two years, the pilot academy survived on 20 students and $500,000 in interest-free loans from the Council.
The academy’s acting general manager and chief flight instructor, Ray Nelson, said the long-awaited return of international students puts the flight academy firmly back on the path to growth.
“Fifty-four students are a game-changer for us at this point,” Nelson said.
“The last two years of Covid have affected our operations significantly. We are lucky that our shareholder is the local council, and they have absolutely supported us throughout this period.
“Our student body is 70% international students. Over the past two years, during the Covid period, we have seen a reduction in student numbers.
“The importance of the return of international students, and in particular these 54, is to get us back to pre-Covid levels and back into a period of growth to get us back on track to meet our target of 200 student enrollments. students by 2024.”
Nelson said the academy was lucky to have its first major influx of international students in February 2020, two weeks before the first Covid lockdown.
“We had our highest number of students at that time and had the advantage of having them through 2020 and 2021, allowing flight training operations to continue.”
These students were the first to participate in a cadet program with the Indian airline IndiGo set up in 2019.
“We were invited to India to present a program and we did it. It’s a pretty prestigious cadet program – not many schools partner with them in the world. So we were really prepared and had driven in the course. a managed growth plan to see at least 25 international students arrive every three months.
“We look forward to regaining that momentum in 2023.”
International students are in Whanganui between one year and 15 months, depending on the qualification they seek.
“Not all of them are part of the IndiGo cadet program. In this group, it is about half. After graduation, the cadets return to India for more airline-specific training. also for more training and then enter the airline job market in India.
“The airline industry and the employment opportunities for them in India are significant.”
Nelson said the pilot academy was working with the Department of Education to bring a second cohort to Whanganui in the second semester.
It also has around 20 domestic students at any one time in its two-year diploma and aviation program.
Lou Tyson Walker, Strategic Lead Capability for economic development agency Whanganui & Partners, says the admission of 54 people will have a significant economic impact.
“Until 2019, when the Covid pandemic drastically affected student numbers, we tracked the contribution of international students to the economy. At that time, international students (including high school students) added an average of $44,951 each to our economy (per year),” Tyson Walker said. .
“There are many clear ways for students to help our economy grow. They contribute as a fee to a local business or school – NZICPA in this case, but UCOL and language or secondary schools in d They also enable job growth through infrastructure So tutors, housekeepers, food service providers, janitors and others all get contracts because of their stay here.
“And of course, students explore, shop and socialize while studying at Whanganui, which is especially important at a time when our hospitality and visitor industries have been impacted by the pandemic.
“Students who study here gain specialized skills that help make Whanganui an internationally important study destination. These students, who will one day fly around the world, will remember and promote Whanganui in both their professional and private lives.
Tyson Walker said the students would also contribute to the city’s social and cultural richness, enabling residents to develop cross-cultural skills and better understand other cultures.
Bajpai, an IndiGo cadet pilot, said he appreciates the efforts made by NZICPA staff to keep the program going over the past two years, allowing students to take some modules remotely.
After obtaining his commercial pilot license in Whanganui, he will return to India to convert it to an Indian license before traveling to Abu Dhabi for a rating on the aircraft type flown by IndiGo. He will then return to India to fly for IndiGo.
The passenger airline is India’s largest low-cost carrier, he said, with a 52% market share. It holds the record for the largest Airbus order in history and has between 3,500 and 4,000 pilots, he said.
Bajpai hails from the mid-west city of Pune, which has a population of 4.5 million. He said he wanted to tackle some of the adventure activities offered by the country, including crossing Tongariro.
He is also an avid footballer who played professionally in India before quitting to study, and wants to join a local club and find voluntary work in the community.
Most of the new promotion students are between 18 and 25 years old. The pilot academy provides 24-hour pastoral care and support.
Nelson said former students enjoyed coming to the small town of Whanganui.
“We offer very good managed student accommodation in Whanganui with fantastic facilities,” said Nelson.
“We engage with students before they leave their country, help them obtain their visas, pick them up at the airport, welcome them throughout their training and help them participate in volunteer programs in the local community.
“We have a football team and a basketball team, they play in local leagues and we have had students who play in local cricket teams. Likewise with volunteer programs, Meals on Wheels and others , international students love it.
“[Whanganui is] a breath of fresh air. It’s a fantastic place for them to focus on their flight training and also give back to the local community.”
Local Democracy Reporting is public interest journalism funded by NZ On Air